It’s no overstatement to say that 73-year-old Sue Ablett has travelled all over the planet.
As a university student, Sue embarked on a month-long Greyhound bus journey across America with her roommate. She recounts, “Everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong. My luggage got lost, my return ticket didn’t turn up, but despite it all, it instilled in me an absolute love of exploring – and I’ve been travelling ever since.”
Her adventures have taken her from the frozen continent of Antarctica and the remote villages of Greenland to the bustling cities of South Asia and North Korea. And now, she’s distilled some of her most remarkable discoveries and experiences into a collection of 35 travel talks, which she regularly presents on Rest Less Events.
To give our readers some travel inspiration – for both lesser-known destinations and popular ones that live up to their reputation – we asked Sue to compile a list of five must-visit locations.
Read on to find out which ones she chose…
1. South Georgia
Sue’s first pick is South Georgia: a mountainous, windswept island in the middle of the South Atlantic. She says, “I’d read in a guidebook that people who visit South Georgia can count themselves among the luckiest people on Earth.”
Often referred to as ‘the Galapagos of the Southern Ocean’, this lonely isle is bursting with natural beauty. Witness jagged, snow-covered peaks descending into shimmering fjords and glistening glaciers winding their way through spectacular valleys.
And if you’re into wildlife, there’s plenty to see – including penguins, elephant seals, and wandering albatrosses. As a self-confessed “penguin geek”, visiting the King penguin colony was one of Sue’s highlights.
She says, “South Georgia is a penguin lover’s paradise. To land on a beach with 200,000 penguin pairs was a pretty spectacular experience. Smell-wise, sight-wise, and noise-wise, it was absolutely unforgettable.”
But it’s not just the natural beauty that draws visitors to South Georgia. Lying over 2,000km away from the South American mainland, it’s truly isolated and perfect for people with an adventurous spirit. In fact, its mysteries have enchanted some of the world’s most famous explorers for centuries…
Sue says, “I like to learn things when I’m travelling, and in South Georgia, it was the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton.”
In 1915, Shackleton and his crew found themselves stranded on an Antarctic island after their ship, Endurance, became stuck in the ice. As a result, he and a handful of men set out on a perilous journey to South Georgia to find help.
However, once they’d crossed 1,500 of turbulent seas in a rickety lifeboat, strong winds blew them off course, forcing them to land on the wrong side of the island. Shackleton and his men then had to make the first-ever crossing of South Georgia on foot to reach a whaling station on the opposite coast – which led to the rescue of his entire crew.
“It’s just the greatest adventure story ever,” Sue says. “He’s buried there, and I visited his grave in Grytviken Harbour. It’s a sort of pilgrimage. People take a bottle of Irish whiskey, scatter it on the grave, and raise a glass to one of the greatest explorers ever.”
In keeping with this island’s isolated spirit, there’s no formal accommodation on South Georgia. So most people, like Sue, visit on a polar expedition cruise with other nearby locations like the Falklands and Antarctica. Trips typically depart between November and March, when it’s relatively warm and sea ice is minimal.
To hear more about Sue’s travels in South Georgia, why not tune into her upcoming talk ‘Antarctica: the ultimate expedition cruise’ over on Rest Less Events?
2. Taormina, Sicily
If exploring the wind-ravaged wilderness doesn’t appeal to you, and you’d rather immerse yourself in age-old culture and enjoy a spot of sun, then Sue’s next pick might be perfect for you.
Perched high on a clifftop, the picturesque hilltop town of Taormina is one of Sicily’s most popular travel destinations – and for good reason. Steeped in fascinating history and surrounded by stunning scenery, it’s been a beloved tourist spot since Roman times, when ruling elites would come from the mainland to vacation here.
The town’s most famous attraction is undoubtedly the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient theatre carved out of the rock by the Greeks in the third century BC.
Originally a place for the arts, it’s said that the Romans later used it as an arena for gladiators. However, it’s now returned to its peaceful beginnings and – as well as admiring the ancient architecture – you can sit in the cavea and treat yourself to a concert, opera, or play as the tangerine sun sets over the looming shape of Mt Etna.
However, the attraction that caught Sue’s attention during her visit earlier this year was Casa Cuseni, a charming villa with a fascinating history. Constructed in the early 20th century for the painter Robert Hawthorn Kitson, it soon became a favourite retreat for artists who came to work on their crafts. Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and Roald Dahl are among the most notable visitors.
Yet, the villa’s history extends beyond its famous guests. From forbidden love to mafia dons, the house set the stage for an epic and fantastical tale that’s just as enthralling as the novels of its esteemed guests.
You can visit the villa’s museum to find out more, or even stay in one of the rooms – each with its own rich history. Or, if you want to learn a little before setting off, Sue recommends reading A House in Sicily, written by Kitson’s niece, who inherited the house after his death.
Sue says, “It’s a beautiful house with a stunning garden and a fascinating story. To stay there would be just wonderful – it’s on my bucket list!”
Between visiting the various attractions, you can spend your time wandering through the quintessential Sicilian streets, marvelling at the Gothic, Arab, and Norman architecture and sampling some of the island’s famous culinary delights.
3. St Kilda, Scotland
For something a little closer to home – but nonetheless wild, fascinating, and rather tricky to get to – Sue’s third pick is the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda. Situated hundreds of miles from the coast of the mainland, it’s the westernmost point of the Outer Hebrides.
Formed from the rim of an ancient volcano and surrounded by tumultuous seas, St Kilda is significant for a variety of reasons. In fact, it’s the only place in the UK to receive dual UNESCO World Heritage status for its zoological and historical significance.
Close to a million seabirds call this windswept cluster of islands home. Here, you’ll find the largest colony of puffins in the UK and have a chance to spot the northern gannet and northern fulmar. St Kilda’s exposure to the full might of the Atlantic has also given it some of the most dramatic, towering cliffs and sea stacks where these sea-faring birds nest.
If you’re lucky, you might also be able to spot the St Kilda field mouse or the St Kilda wren – two sub-species that aren’t found anywhere else.
But it’s not only animals that have called this blustery corner of the world home – but humans too. Experts believe that people may have lived on the main island of Hirta for as long as four millennia.
“The locals lived on seabirds,” Sue tells us. “They climbed down the cliffs barefoot to capture them and their eggs. They’d then dry the birds and eat them for breakfast, dinner, and tea with potatoes, which was about the only thing they could grow.”
Today, you can explore the ruins of the abandoned village on Hirta. One of the old houses now serves as a museum, where you can learn how people survived in these harsh, unforgiving conditions – as well as the famous 1930 evacuation when the final residents voluntarily relocated to the mainland.
Sue says, “I’d read about St Kilda as a kid, and it’s one of those places I always wanted to go, but I didn’t know if I ever would. Because I stopped off on the way to Greenland on an expedition cruise, I was probably only there for four hours. But because I saw what it was like and saw the houses, the story means so much more now.”
Like South Georgia, the only way to get to St Kilda is by boat. So Sue’s number one tip for visiting this lonely island is to “hope for calm seas because if the weather’s wrong, you won’t be able to land.” But, as she tells us, this elusiveness only adds to St Kilda’s mystery and uniqueness.
4. The Taj Mahal, India
While the entries so far have been somewhat off the beaten track, with her fourth pick, Sue wants to celebrate a more conventional tourist destination: India’s Taj Mahal. Built in the 17th century, this towering mausoleum of shimmering white marble is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Sue explains, “I think it’s the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen in my life – and I’ve seen a lot of big buildings that are quite impressive. It’s just gorgeous – the craftsmanship is stunning.
“As you get to the Taj Mahal, it’s bustling. You turn a corner and get your first glimpse as you walk through an archway – and everyone just goes, ‘Wow’. Even my partner, John, who’s not known to enthuse, was bowled over by that first sight. The second time we went, it was the same. I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m here’.”
Always one to learn about the history of the places she visits, Sue also found herself captivated by the story behind the building…
“The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built it as a tomb for his late wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died having her 14th child, as a symbol of his enduring love. Later, when his son imprisoned him in a building nearby, he said that he could cope with house arrest as long as he could see the Taj Mahal from his window.”
As well as visiting the Taj Mahal, Sue also recommends setting off on a wildlife safari whilst visiting India – specifically to spot a tiger.
“You can never guarantee that you’ll see them, but, for me, looking is as much a part of the fun. You get up at five o’clock in the morning and go bombing around in a Jeep, and when you see a tiger’s footprint or scratch marks on a tree, you know they’re not far away. We didn’t see one the first time we went, but we got some incredible views of them the next time.”
While many hope to see a tiger, Indian safaris offer an array of wildlife – from leopards and Asiatic lions to elephants and rhinos.
5. North Norfolk Coast, England
When we think of breathtaking seaside spots in the UK, places like Cornwall, Devon, and South Wales may spring to mind. But the reality is that there are thousands of miles of gorgeous and diverse coastline to be found all over, including Sue’s next choice, the North Norfolk Coast.
As a Leicestershire local, Sue’s fifth and final pick is very close to home. But she explains that her love of this quiet corner of England isn’t based on simple convenience…
“For all I’ve travelled the world, this is my idea of paradise. The North Norfolk Coast out-strips anywhere else I’ve ever been – and my absolute favourite beach in the world is Holkham Beach.”
There are plenty of beautiful beaches along the North Norfolk Coast, but Holkham is certainly one of the feathers in its cap.
Just a short diversion from the A149 (the main coastal road), you can park up and stroll along the boardwalk, which winds through Holkham National Nature Reserve. Once you’ve passed the famous towering pines and rolling dunes, you’ll emerge onto the great expanse of sand.
Sue says, “You can walk for miles in either direction. There’s a slightly busy bit by the boardwalk, but once you’ve left that, it can just be you and your dog. I’ve spread my three previous dogs’ ashes in the dunes because we’ve always had such stunning walks there, and they just loved it. Whenever I go, whatever the weather, I feel like my body and soul are restored.”
A little way from Sandringham Estate, Holkham Beach has been a favourite spot among the Royal Family since the days of Queen Victoria. But it’s also famous for its wildlife, attracting birdwatchers looking to spot species like ringed plovers, oystercatchers, and Brent geese.
As for where to stay, Sue recommends the quaint fishing village of Blakeney. Not only is it a perfect base for exploring the area – by bike, car, or bus – but it’s also an idyllic spot in itself. Why not visit England’s largest grey seal colony here, or the historic Jacobean manor house, Wiveton Hall?
From polar islands halfway across the world to the UK’s breathtaking shores, we hope that Sue’s must-visit travel destinations have shown you there’s an adventure to be found wherever you are and whatever your budget.
Looking to book your next getaway?
Have you travelled to any of the destinations on this list? Or do you have any must-visit locations of your own? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below.